“The Plot Thickens…”
Sunday of the Passion, March 28, 2021
The Plot Thickens
Text: Mark 14:1–15:47
Think of today’s reading as like a play in three acts—the first act setting the stage for what will occur in the second act, the second act being the confrontation which is resolved in Act Three. As we move from one act to another, The Plot Thickens until the Truth and Purpose of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Is Revealed in the end.
Keep in mind that this is not an ordinary crime drama, romantic comedy, or adventure that we might see on a local stage or on the big screen of a movie theater. This is the authored Word of the triune God, the divinely revealed actions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When I say that you should think about this as a play, I am talking in terms of structure. What we heard today in our lengthy Gospel all happened. It is truth, not fiction.
I. The Setup: The Plot to Kill Jesus
We begin with the setup, the plot to kill Jesus. Act One begins with the chief priests and scribes entering the stage and discussing the plan to “arrest him (Jesus) by stealth and kill him” (14:1). Jesus is a threat to their power, their position, their place in the Jewish community.
The scene then changes to Bethany, and Jesus is at the house of Simon the (NO LONGER A) Leper having dinner. While that is going on, a woman comes and anoints Jesus with some very expensive perfume. We do not know who this woman was, but if we look deep enough here, we can see she has faith. What is really going on here is that she is anointing Jesus’ body for burial. She believes Jesus when He said He would be handed over to the Romans to be killed. Criminal’s bodies were not allowed to be buried, let alone be prepared for burial. She knows this and is doing it now. Another reason she is doing it now is if she believes Jesus when He said He would rise again, she knows this anointing will not be able to happen afterwards either. She seems to have great faith. And Jesus, as you can see, is pleased with what she did.
Other people object. There were a few grumblers who saw this as an extravagance, and a waste of money. They argued that the money spent on the ointment could have been used to help the poor (14:3–4). They were right about the cost, it was a year’s wages for the average person ($48,500), but it appears their motive was not charity, but jealousy.
This is followed by the arrival on the scene of the antagonist/betrayer, Judas Iscariot. He is THE Bad Guy (remember the sermon from a couple of weeks ago?) Judas is now in the plot and a deal is struck with the chief priests. His greed moves him to seek personal financial gain by the betrayal of Jesus.
The scene then changes to Jesus observing the Passover, and the Lord’s Supper, with His apostles. (If you think this is moving fast, this is the way Mark’s Gospel works.) While at the table during the celebration of the Passover, Jesus identifies who His betrayer is, and that Peter that night will deny Him three times. As the plot thickens, the betrayer goes forward with his terrible plan.
After Judas left, Jesus and the band of disciples leave the upper room of the Passover celebration and move to the Mount of Olives. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays and challenges the disciples because of their weak faith. Judas then comes in, leading the palace guard, and identifies Jesus to them by kissing Him. Jesus is arrested. That, we could say, is the end of Act One.
II. The Confrontation: The Plot of Evil Accusation
With the start of Act Two, the scene changes, and Jesus is led away to the high priest. Testimony against Jesus is offered, but it is contradictory: “their testimony did not agree” (14:56). These folks doing this trial broke a lot of their own rules doing it like this in the middle of the night. One rule they didn’t get around, or so it seems, is that they had a rule that you had to have two witnesses agree, as per the crime. The folks they brought in to be “witnesses” had to make stuff up, and they didn’t get their stories straight before the proceedings started. And everything they were accusing Jesus of was a lie. Finally, they just ask Jesus if He is the Messiah, and He says, “I Am.” He gets a beating for telling them the truth, and they decide to accuse Him of blasphemy.
The scene also includes Peter, who is also confronted. A servant girl accuses: “You also were with the Nazarene . . . This man is one of them . . . Certainly you are one of them.” 3 times Peter is accused of being one of Jesus’ men, and three times he denies it, after telling Jesus he would die before he did such a thing. Oops.
The action then moves to the governor’s palace and Pilate’s court. And that brings us then to the end of Act Two.
III. The Resolution: The Plot Twist That Saves
Act Three begins with Jesus before Pilate. If you know your Gospels, you know that Mark skipped Jesus’ first appearance before Pilate, which is when Pilate sent Jesus to King Herod, and also skipped the whole thing with Jesus and King Herod. Mark, the first Gospel to be written I believe, presents the Gospel in a “just the facts” kind of way.
So getting back to what happened, Pilate confronts Jesus with this charge: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (15:2). Now remember the charge the Jews came up with was blasphemy, claiming to be God. They knew the Romans would not give the death penalty for that, so they told Pilate that Jesus was encouraging an insurrection against Rome and the Emperor, a charge which was, again, a lie. Jesus chooses not to dignify these proceedings with His participation. He could have said just about anything and been let off. Pilate knew, KNEW, Jesus was innocent of what He was accused of. But Jesus stayed silent, because He needed to go to the cross and die (and rise again!) to SAVE YOU AND ME.
Back to Mark, we then see that salvation is foreshadowed as Pilate offers to release a prisoner. The man offered is a truly evil man, a rebel, a real insurrectionist, and murderer, Barabbas. It has been said that Barabbas may have been really surprised to be released because from his cell, all he may have heard was the crowd yelling his name, and then yelling “Crucify him!” If he couldn’t hear Pilate, that might have been interesting. At any rate, Jesus, the Son of God, is condemned in place of Barabbas (Salvation foreshadowed: Jesus died in the place of Barabbas, Jesus died in place of us.). Jesus, after being handed over to the Roman guard and after their “amusement,” is led away to be crucified.
Now we see a new character. His name is Simon. He is from a place called Cyrene. It is now in what we know as Libya. And we need to note here that it would very much appear that Simon became someone known in the early church, and that his sons Alexander and Rufus were well known to the church at Rome, which is who this Gospel was written for. This man is drafted into service to carry the cross of Jesus. It changed his life!
Then we get to Golgotha. That is an Aramaic word. It means, “Place of a Skull,” and that is either because the hill was shaped like a skull, or because it was covered by the skulls of many people who were crucified. They nailed Jesus to the cross at 9:00 a.m. Then we see that Jesus is mocked by all—passersby, the chief priests and scribes, even the criminals who were crucified with him. Although the second thief seems to have had a change of heart regarding Jesus later in the day.
Time passes. At noon, darkness covers the whole land until 3 p.m. If you are from a Roman Catholic and Lutheran area like me, you may recall three-hour Good Friday services that went from noon to three. At 3 p.m. Jesus suffers the ultimate agony by being abandoned even by His heavenly Father. The eternal connection between Father and Son, between the Creator and the Savior Jesus, is broken there on the cross. This is way worse than the beatings, the flogging, the nailing that Jesus went through. This was the worst. And that is why He cries out with the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This, though, is the climactic moment of our justification/God’s plan to save us and take away our sins; separation from His Father is Jesus’ final payment for our sins. Then Jesus cries out one more time, which I believe He is saying there, “It is Finished!” and with that He stops breathing, and His heart stops beating.
The scene briefly shifts to the temple, where the curtain is torn from top to bottom, and then back to the foot of the cross and the Roman centurion’s amazing comment, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39) as he watches Jesus die. The curtain being torn was the curtain that separated where the people were, and where God was, in the temple. This was God’s dramatic way (this curtain was HUGE and it weighed a TON) of saying that Jesus’ sacrifice was complete. The debt was paid. Our sins were paid for. The scene was so dramatic, the sights so amazing, that the pagan soldier there, the Roman in charge, he was so impressed that he actually may have believed that Jesus was His Savior.
The final scene is the burial of Jesus’ lifeless body. In death, Jesus is honored more than in life. The curtain of our theater comes down, and the scene is set for the sequel to follow next Sunday. But the matter of getting our sins taken care of, the resolution of mankind’s sin is complete. The debt is paid.
That is to say, by this real-life drama two thousand years ago, you are forgiven.
In the Name of Jesus.